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Tennessee Distracted Driving Laws: Texting & Driving, Cell Phones & Other Driver Distractions

Learn about laws and penalties for distracted driving in Tennessee

In recent decades, Tennessee distracted driving statistics have looked grim. With many citizens being injured or killed by distracted drivers, officials decided to take action.

Public Chapter No. 412, also known as Tennessee's Hands-Free Law, was enacted in 2019 in an effort to protect people and property across the state.

Why is a hands-free law needed in Tennessee?

In a study conducted by Value Penguin and Lending Tree, researchers found that between 2015 and 2017, there were in excess of 1,400 fatalities connected to distracted drivers in the U.S.

A disproportionate number of these accidents occurred in 5 states, including Tennessee. Taken together, those 5 states represented a full 31 percent of all distracted driver-related fatalities during that time period.

Further, the study concluded that Tennessee led the nation in distracted driving deaths. With 7.2 such deaths per 10 billion vehicle miles, Tennessee's death rate from distracted driving was almost 5 times higher than national average, which was approximately 1.49 deaths per 10 billion vehicle miles.

Moreover, in 2018, Tennessee recorded a total of 24,600 auto accidents involving distracted drivers. That's an average of 67 crashes every day.

These alarming statistics were occurring despite the fact that the state already had laws on the books that were meant to prevent distracted driving. The laws included a ban on texting while driving as well as a ban on the use of handheld devices while driving through school zones. Moreover, any driver in Tennessee who holds a learner's permit or an intermediate license is banned from any cell phone use.

Unfortunately, it was clear that these measures weren't going far enough. That's when the state proposed the Tennessee Hands-Free Law.

TCA 55-8-199: Tennessee’s Hands-Free Law

Since July 1, 2019, it has been illegal to have your cell phone in your hand while driving. Actually, according to the law, it's illegal for a driver to hold a cell phone or other device with any part of their body. Writing, sending and reading text messages is against the law, as is watching videos on any mobile device. Drivers also aren't allowed to broadcast or record videos on a mobile device while they're behind the wheel.

It's now unlawful for a driver to reach for a cell phone or other mobile device if doing so requires them to leave a seated driving position or unfasten their seatbelt.

Despite the law, drivers are still permitted to use GPS to assist with navigation. It's recommended that the mobile device be securely mounted to the windshield, center console or dashboard. Drivers are allowed to use a single tap or swipe to turn off a feature.

This distracted driving law means that the only way to use a cell phone or other mobile device while behind the wheel is with hands-free or voice-to-text technology.

The only time that drivers are exempt from the hands-free law is when they are communicating with police or related authorities during an emergency.

Penalties for distracted driving in Tennessee

Legislators and law enforcement are backing up the new law with robust consequences. Violations of the state's distracted driving laws are considered primary offenses. This means that police are empowered to pull over and cite a driver whose only infraction is driving while distracted. No speeding, failure to yield or ignoring a stop sign is required.

In Tennessee, the district attorney even has the power to pull a driver's cell phone records after an accident if law enforcement believes that the driver was distracted at the time of the crash. This may enable the district attorney to prove that a driver was using a mobile device when such use was prohibited.

Anyone who is cited for violating the law faces Class C misdemeanor charges. First and second tickets for this violation cost a maximum of $50, but if a driver is charged with three or more offenses, then the ticket may run as high as $100.

Similarly, a $100 ticket is issued for distracted driving that results in an accident. People who are distracted while driving through school zones or work zones face a $200 ticket.

The penalties don't end there.

Each violation of this law adds 3 demerit points to the driver's record. Any Tennessee driver who accumulates more than 12 demerit points within a 12-month period may receive a notice of proposed suspension. This notice triggers an administrative hearing. Drivers who fail to request a hearing will automatically have their driving privileges suspended for 6 to 12 months.

Additionally, people who hold a learner's permit or an intermediate license will find themselves waiting an extra 90 days to upgrade their driving privileges.

What if you're injured by a distracted driver?

Despite the stringency of the law, many violations continue to occur. Some of these cause serious injury and even death of innocent drivers and pedestrians.

If you or someone you love has been injured by a distracted driver, then you need to secure the services of a qualified Tennessee car accident lawyer. Thanks to decades of knowledge, skill and experience, our attorneys may be able to help you make a financial recovery.

Contact us today for your free consultation.


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